What I Learned from My (Not-So-Great) Great British Bake-Off

A few weeks ago I heard myself say,

“I think I’m going to take up baking this winter.”

Mind you, I don’t bake. I’ve never really baked anything in my life, and baking had never interested me. I don’t even like having chocolate or cookies in my house — let alone whole cakes and pies — because I know I’ll decimate them in a matter of days, if not hours.

What prompted this sudden desire to start baking?

It was one-part boredom — winters have had that effect on me — and one-part creative impulse inspired by… binge watching The Great British Bake-Off on Netflix.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a baking competition series that has jumped the pond and developed a cult-like following in the States. I was introduced to the show by my sister Bianca, a television writer herself, over two of our particularly introverted evenings when I last visited her in Los Angeles. Shunning our fancy dinner plans for delivery instead, we turned on the TV and found ourselves whisked away (baking pun!) into this quaint, buttery-fairytale of a baking show.

Pleasant, positive, altogether cheery and full of the fluttering, accented chitter-chatter that I love, sure, I might have been indulging in some emotional escapism — what with daydreaming of becoming new best-friends with Rahul, Manon, Jon, Ruby, Briony, and Kim Joy.

But the real fun of the show was watching delightful-seeming personalities do their best to bring creative expressions to life.

As a writer, a teacher of writing, and a coach to writers, a lot of my work and my world revolve around helping people towards fully realized self-expression practices. It’s what I love to do. It’s amazing to watch someone’s art, creativity, world-view, personality, dreams, or zest for life find its right outlet.

Of course, I also love to create, myself.

So it wasn’t long until I found myself starting to daydream about making my own towering sponge cakes layered with buttercream frosting, and wondering what it would take to make my own ginger, turmeric and cardamom biscuits… or something.

Upon returning home to Rhode Island — and streaming another whole season of the show in a day or two — I decided it was time to do something with my newfound creative impulse.

Mind abuzz with ideas and inspired enthusiasm, I marched into Whole Foods and directly to the baking aisle, intent to make something altogether delicious and lovely.

Behold! The Great “Dave-ish” Bake Off had begun!

*Cue record-scratch*

Standing before an outrageous number of options — baking tins and pans and sheets, more spices and ingredients than I could count, ready-make options, gluten-free everything, and no less than 34 different kinds of sugar — my creative desire began to short-circuit.

I found myself, like most anyone else with a pure and innocent intention to make something, suddenly confronted by the “other half” of the creative equation:

Destruction.

The “Other Half” of the Creative Equation

When we use the word “creative” in everyday conversation, we tend to be talking about the happy side of creativity, the making side. Why is because the making side is so much fun. It contains all the promise! Endless potential. Total freedom. Making is the awe-inspired, beauty-spinning, and light-bringing of what it means to be creative.

That’s why we fall in love with a show like The Great British Bake-Off.

What attracts us to “being more creative” or “feeling more creative” or “experiencing more creativity” in our lives is this specific promise and appeal: the essence by which any and every person may behold the unmistakable power of birthing of something, as if by magic, out of nothing.

And yet?

As I wrote you when last we spoke, anything creative is one part destructive for one part generative.

That doesn’t mean every creative effort or desire or ambition or thing must be a morbid, morose, heart-wrenching venture. What I mean is that anything creative often requires shedding, surrender, releasing of the old, or letting go. At the very least, the desire to make tends to involve inviting a less-than-lovely confrontation with a steep learning curve, or emotionally acclimating to a harsher experience than fanciful dreams may have initially promised.

This is what stops us short from indulging in all of our creative desires to make.

I call it “the other half” of the creative equation.

It’s the uncomfortable side.

The disruptive side.

The side that triggers you, stirs doubt in you, or altogether hijacks your perfectly fine intentions.

In place of feeling inspired, ambitious and unfettered, you’re suddenly struck with fear, uncertainty, guilt, excuse-making, shame, or some other altogether-awful-feeling.

That’s what hit me as I stood in the bakery aisle that day.

Overcome by a tidal wave of options, choices, angles, directions and ingredients, I felt sudden doubts and debilitating indecision rush through the mind.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I told myself. I didn’t know what I wanted to bake, let along what I was capable of baking. I didn’t even know how to get started recognizing my choices on where to begin.

Then, I remembered practical matters. Like the fact that I didn’t even own a whisk, or a mixing bowl. I didn’t know if a mixing bowl was any different from a regular bowl. And did I need a standing mixer? How much would that cost, and how often would I really use it? And, what even is the difference between whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flour?

In a bundle of overwhelm and indecision, my daydreams of making elegant cakes and mind-blowing pies and delectable holiday cookies like my new (and completely imaginary) best friends on “GBBO” were instantly dashed.

(Apologies, dear Manon, I heard myself say to my imaginary future love, I will have to woo you in ways other than through sugar and butter!)

Defeated, I slunk out of the store without ingredients, or supplies, or even the intention to bake anything, at all.

Instead, I bought three cupcakes, already made, from the bakery section of the grocery store.

I ate all three on my drive home.

Honestly, I should have known better.

What was I thinking, jumping into a new creative venture without a plan? Without first managing my expectations, and taking a second to consider what I was capable of starting out with on Day 1?

After all, I’ve been a professional writer for 10 years (this coming May) and I’ve encountered just about every hang-up, hesitation or existential crisis that exists around my preferred outlet of self-expression, writing.

Besides, I’ve also spent the last 6 years working in support of fellow writers, creatives, poets, artists, freelancers, journalers-in-secret and aspiring authors, most of the time in the role of coach or mentor or guide to help clients navigate the subtle shadows and discomfort that naturally arise along our creative journeys.

I know that the law of creation dictates one part destructive for one part generative.

Which simply means that some shadow will always rise with the light.

That, whether writing a blog post or baking cookies, the natural and innocent and beautiful desire to make will always prompt an opposite reaction: simple hesitation or an honest roadblock; the emotional impulse to give up (for now) or to blow up the plan (for all of forever); or even to second-guess your self-esteem into oblivion.

When hesitation, second-guessing, doubt, guilt, shame or fear rear their ugly heads — which they will — my clients and I come together with blazing torches in hand to face them down. We shine light to expose the truth of these shadows, the burdens we are carrying, what baggage deserves its final letting go.

We poke, prod, explore, we inquire, we witness, unpack. And then, we use words and stories to reinterpret the the shadow as a new resource for learning, growth, and expansion.

(In other words? We turn into our avoidance, and make the resistance into our refuge.)

Sure, it’s no big deal to miss out on baking a cake or a pie on a weekday night. But it’s something altogether different — and, so far as your soul-code is concerned, dangerous — when our creative inclinations and desires to express ourselves fall silent, for good.

It always begins with simple hesitation, honest doubt, or a quick-but-certain feeling of overwhelm prompts an innocent question like, “What am I doing, anyway?”. That doubt opens the door to another, like, “So why am I bothering at all?”.

It doesn’t take long before your creative impulse — that natural human dream to make — gets buried.

Because I have been writing for so long — and helping clients and students along with an outlet of creativity that feels so good and fun and rewarding to me — I guess I had started to take for granted how triggering and suddenly one can slide can a buoyant and exuberant state of “Yay, creativity!” to “I am a failure and the world is a dark and cruel place.”

But my failed adventure in baking certainly did remind me of it.

It reminded me of what it feels like when the other half of creative impulse rears its ugly head, like:

  • My starts and stops with watercolor painting (which I take up with fierce commitment for about 3 days every-other-year before abandoning entirely)
  • All the passing moments that I declare that I want to learn how to play piano, but have yet to take a single lesson
  • The two guitars (and the ukulele) that I’ve bought in my life, but have never learned to play single note on
  • The voice lessons that I say I want to take — at least, when I’m alone and singing to myself in the car — but never have the courage to actually act on

My failed “British Bake-Off of one” reminded me that the destructive side of the creative equation still very much affects me, as much as anyone else. But if I’ve learned anything over my creative journey, it’s been this:

The “destruction” side of the creative equation doesn’t intend to derail you, push you into existential crisis, or overwhelm you to the brink of abandoning it altogether.

The destructive side of creativity exists to show you the way forward.

It’s the promise of creativity — the inspired sparks, the desires to make, the passion to explore — that set us off on our creative paths.

But it’s the roadblocks we stumble upon, the walls we face, the bridge trolls who challenge our journey that are our greatest teachers. The shadows show us the way — forward, and up, toward our greatest expansion as souls.

Because, if the road block is there at all in our writing, or our baking, or our music, or our art, I guarantee it’s also there throughout the rest of our lives: in our work, in our relationships, and in our missions to inspire.

If you’ve ever had your enthusiasm dashed by not knowing where to begin, I get it.

If you’ve ever had a creative dream dashed by giving up before you try, I feel it.

If you’ve felt burdened by guilt for even wanting to explore it in the first place? I see you.

If you’ve ever stood at the edge of something new, before walking away, I am no different than you.

If you’ve felt ashamed for trying and failing; like a failure for not measuring up to your own lofty expectations; like you’ve doubted your worth for not advancing your skills fast enough?

I am so right there with you.

I have the crumpled cupcake wrappers in the backseat of my car to prove it.

And yet, in my heart I know I’ve got what it takes to overcome the hurdles — because on the path of making, the hurdles are always the same. I’ve been here before. I’ve done this in the past. So, for a while — or until Paul and Prue come knocking on my door — I’ll have to coach myself through the resistance, the discomfort, the indecision and the overwhelm of what it means to make as a baker.

If you, friend, have a particular dream, goal, desire, or creative urge that is specific to writing, however?

I might be able to help.

It’s why I’m here. It’s what I do. And I would love to talk with you about bringing your desires to create to life this coming New Year.

Whether you’re thinking about writing your first book; journaling more consistently for the first time in decades; or starting a blog on a subject (just because you’ve got so much to say about it), I know what it’s like to have your creative urge smash up against a wall of unknowns, intimidation and uncertainty.

You don’t need to face that proverbial “overwhelming baking aisle” alone.

I’ll go there with you.

No matter your goal or vision or intention, creativity is best served with the right support — the self-aware kind, the empowered kind, the gentle and compassionate (but firm-love-when-it’s-needed) kind. That’s me. That’s what my Writer’s Group of Two clients love. And, better yet, what I bring with us on your writing journey is a roadmap that I’ve been creating for 10 years. It helps you know exactly what to expect along your creative endeavor.

I can pretty much guarantee that whatever you intend to make will be made a lot more enjoyable, sustainable, and rewarding along the way.

All that’s required is a little shadow for some light. An equal trade of discomfort for the pleasure, fulfillment and reward that awaits.

And it does await.

Let me show you how.

Yours in making, baking, and beyond,

Enjoy this?

Share on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. And be sure to sign up for my newsletter to receive new stories like this in your inbox every 2 weeks: